Adventure of the Realm of Creation I
The little boat heads north to continue its journey, hoping they will be allowed to pass into the Realm of Creation. Their next destination is the Island of Severity; Isaac explains that they will probably have to visit all ten, for he believes them to be a mirror of the Tree of Life. No doubt their travels will change them; indeed, they already have. He does not know what Deboret was talking about in her reference to the quill and so forth, but no doubt they will acquire these things on their journey.
One day, no more than fifty feet from them, a gigantic beast erupts from the sea and falls back: a whale. On the third day, they hear an odd scraping against the hull and find themselves in the midst of a vast kelp bed. The weeds are flowered, and their colors change as they disappear into the depths. A pike pokes its head above the water and intones, "Peace be with you." Isaac responds in kind.
On the fourth day they spot land, and come into the midst of a small fishing fleet of highly decorated boats. It's a small, rocky island, and they sail around it for a time before they find a small town and a harbor. A small crowd of people in brown clothing await them. No one offers to help as they tie up or even comes near them, the natives simply look at them. They appear somewhat short and squat compared to the people of the other islands, and they have the dark, weathered skin of those who spend much time at sea. Eventually someone asks if they are hungry. The knights admit that they are. They are told to go to "the long house." A boy leads them there.
The houses are widely scattered, with racks of drying fish outside them, and little gardens in back. The streets are paved with fishbones. In the middle of the town is a large building with rounded sides and low doors. They duck and enter. Within is a cooking pot, and seats. In contrast to the outside, everything within is very highly decorated, with tapestries on the walls and scrimshaw. A number of old men sit within, engaged in their crafts; their animated discussion ceases the moment the knights enter.
"Peace be with you," Elffin ventures. They grunt in response. A girl brings tankards of what looks like beer. It tastes of fish. The men are not very communicative, and respond to Isaac's questions with monosyllables. The building they are in turns out to be the local synagogue, containing beautifully decorated Torah scrolls with jeweled gold handles among its other objects.
Isaac points out that many of the crafts are decorated with scenes from the Old Testament, including a very large tortoise shell into which is carved a depiction of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. One of the natives kills a scorpion that was about to bite one of the knights. They later find that native lore indicates that scorpions are attracted to those whom God is watching.
The day whiles away in uncertain quiet. When they want to have a conversation, the old men go outside; they're not having secret conversations, they just don't like talking in front of the strangers. In the afternoon, the ships come in with their catch, including some of the strange harlequin fish. The knights go outside to watch. One of the men comes over and identifies himself and his companion, Elijah and Micah. They all go back into the long house.
Elijah is actually willing to talk to them, if somewhat enigmatic in his speech. They explain that they are going to Kether, a destination he considers with some skepticism, and tell him of their quest without mentioning the stones.
No one can reach the Realm of the Supernals, he tells them, without the correct talismans. They tell him about the direction to acquire ink, parchment, and quill. He seems to find this rather funny, and says he knows where they can get the ink; indeed, many have tried to get it. The ink they must use is that of the octopus known as Old Strangler. The last party to go after him had come through about two hundred years ago, and gotten some ink, somehow; it was the same octopus, still living.
The knights, who barely know what an octopus is, and have no idea how they are going to go about fighting a giant one, accept this with something akin to resignation. They're not very surprised to find that Old Strangler likes to lurk off a certain point on the other side of the island, where there are many rocks to wreck a ship.
They spend some weeks in preparation, healing from the wounds they sustained in the battles on Hod. Elijah shows them how to use fish bladders as air supplies. They practice with spears and improve their swimming abilities. They pray for guidance. They make a dummy to tow behind the boat, and Isaac crafts something like a ballista, hoping that they can lure the creature to the surface and shoot it. He also concocts a poison from scorpion venom to tip their spears with. Isaac works very hard, so much that the knights feel a bit guilty at times for forgetting his advanced age; sometimes it seems that he forgets his age.
In the midst of all this, they learn the ways of the island, which is quite lovely in its severe way. There are two other small villages, and no more than five hundred people on the entire island. Life there is harsh; sometimes men do not come back from the fishing trips, and those who are left must go on. The islanders still won't talk to the strangers, mostly, preferring to talk around them when they are present, but they do begin giving them gifts of scrimshaw, clothing, beautifully embroidered prayer shawls. They share tips for avoiding scorpions and show them which fish they had better be careful not to step on. They tell stories about Old Strangler when the strangers are present. He is said to be as big as a ship, but hasn't been seen in thirty years so may have grown even larger.
One night, Elffin has a dream, that he is diving beneath the waves in search of the giant beast. It siezes him in its tentacles and caresses him gently. "I have been waiting for you for 800 years," it says. "Soon you will feel my kiss." The beak engulfs him before he awakes.
After the knights have been there a month, a strange ship is sighted on the horizon; it does not approach, but sails away toward the Island of Beauty.
At last, the day arrives. Isaac and the ballista take up a position on the headland, where he hopes he will be able to get a shot at the beast. The sea is very rough around the rocks out there, and the knights maneuver their borrowed ship carefully to the region Old Strangler is supposed to favor. They put the dummy into the water and tack back and forth for what seems hours, tugging it along, looking for signs of the octopus. Once Aeron leaps to his feet pointing, but it turns out to be seaweed. The tide goes in, then out again, causing a few tense moments with the boat, but they avoid the dangerous rocks. Eventually the dummy breaks loose, its sodden rope worn away by catching on rocks, and vanishes beneath the waves. Discouraged by their failure, they turn back to the harbor.
Suddenly Richard sees it on his side of the ship, a boiling of tentacles near a cluster of rocks. He alerts the others. While they are deciding what to do, a tentacle snakes over the rail and siezes Elffin's leg. The others stab at it with their spears, and it vanishes back into the ocean, but two more arms appear. They can see the thing's body now, underneath them. It is bigger than their boat. They can hear the vicious beak clacking as the rest of the tentacles reach up toward them.
Richard stabs one of the two tentacles waving about near him; Elffin does the same with another of the arms but a second wraps itself around him and squeezes tightly. Aeron stabs as well, but another arm wraps around his leg. On land, Isaac and his assistants are frantic, unable to get a clear shot.
Two arms apiece attack the knights, while the beast's remaining limbs begin ripping the boat to pieces around them. Elffin struggles and breaks free, drives a poisoned knife into its flesh before it renews its grip, this time around his arm. Aeron, too, frees himself, and eludes the other tentacle. A tentacle wraps around each gunwale and pulls; there is a cracking sound. Richard slashes with his spear as yet another of the seemingly endless tentacles wraps itself around him.
The tentacle squeezes Elffin's arm harder, nearly shattering the bone, as he stabs it again. Aeron gets in a mighty blow just as the mast falls over and the boat begins to flood. Richard stabs it again. All the tentacles disappear; the creature is trying to flee. Elffin spots it, not far away, trailing blood; the knights grab their air bladders and swim after it as Isaac fires his ballista and misses.
Richard stabs and misses. Aeron gets in another good shot. It has a tentacle on Elffin, drawing him down farther, he can see the beak just as he did in his nightmare. He drives his spear straight between the jaws and is burned by its caustic vomit as it dies. The others drag him, nearly dead, from the depths. Another ballista bolt soars over their heads. They make their way back to the shore, where Isaac tends to Elffin's injuries, and haul the vast corpse onto the shingle. They cut out the ink sacks.
That evening they return to the village. The people are somewhat surprised to see them. The next day everyone troops down to the beach to take a look at the corpse, and take the beak as a trophy.
The knights spend several months there, recovering from yet another battle on their long quest, wondering with some apprehension what they will need to do to acquire the other talismans.
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© 1999 David Twiddy